You Always Play the Get Out of Jail Free Card

RockyWhat You’ve Missed…
* A lot of talk about circumcision.  I mean, A LOT.  More than you’d think you’d find in a really holy book.
* An angry mob attacks and stones Paul.  Everyone thinks he’s pretty much dead, but then he just gets up and walks away.  It’s kind of like the final scene in Rocky, except he’s getting hit in the face with rocks, instead of padded boxing gloves.  And there’s less Burgess Meredith.
* Paul casts a demon out of girl who was following him around, because the demon just got really annoying after awhile.  This is basically the New Testament version of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour.
* Paul gets beaten a second time.  It’s not as much like Rocky II as you’d expect, and there’s still no Burgess Meredith.

Day 319
Daily Reading: Acts 15-17

Paul’s life at this point consists basically of two things: Preaching about Jesus and getting beat up, and preaching about Jesus and safely running away from an angry mob.  Pretty simple really.  Acts 15 has Paul preaching about Jesus and getting beat up.  Then he gets thrown into jail, which spices things up a bit.

So how does Paul handle a serious ass kicking and then being wrongfully imprisoned?  Like a champ.  The guy spends his time singing hymns while the other prisoners listen.  Basically he doesn’t let the man get him down.  I mean, he has a better attitude than that guy in The Shawshank Redemption, which is pretty hard to beat.  Instead of complaining and whining, the guy just starts up a karaoke club, belting out the hits late into the night.  Turns out God’s a pretty big karaoke fan, because here how He responds.

Karaoke“Suddenly there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!  The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, ‘Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!’”  Acts 16:26-28

Are you kidding me?  Paul doesn’t get the heck outta Dodge immediately?  He doesn’t see the earthquake as God’s escape plan for him?  Paul just got handed the world’s first Get Out of Jail Free card, and he just hangs around?  Paul, you don’t even need to understand Monopoly to grasp the concept of the Get Out of Jail Free card.  Come on buddy!

BoltIt seems to me that any normal person would take advantage of the situation immediately and get their butt outta there pronto.  I mean, I hate to run, and have yet to find even adequate motivation to start jogging, but I promise you if I were Paul, I would channel the whitest Usain Bolt I could find inside of me and leave that place in the dust, setting some serious Caucasian speed records along the way.  I would do that because I’m normal and my brain works.  But Paul isn’t normal (though I admit his brain does work).  Paul apparently doesn’t feel the need to free himself, he just kind of goes with the flow.  And in this case, the flow has the jailer take Paul and other prisoners home, take care of their wounds, feed them and then become a Christian along with his entire family.

What!?  What jail guard takes prisoners home!?  None.  Because that’s totally crazy.  (Though I think this happens in The Green Mile?  I’m not sure.  I’ve never seen it.  Regardless, if it did happen in The Green Mile, it’s still an extraordinary event, Walkerwhich is probably why it was such a powerful and memorable scene.  That or there was some cool special effects or something.)

Anyway…not only could the jail guard get fired, but this is a Roman jail…and from my education of Romans through movies and bad Sunday school videos, they would feed the jailer to lions or something if he got caught.  I mean, the guy would have some kind of violent Gladiator death for sure. Yet this jailer saw something so completely different in Paul than he’d ever seen in anyone that he risked his own life to learn more about it.  That’s nuts.  That is seriously nuts.

Osama for President?

What You’ve Missed…
* The disciples receive God’s Holy Spirit and start speaking in every language known to man.  Instead of being completely amazed, some people just think the dudes are hammered drunk.
* God teleports Phillip after he baptizes some guy, just like Scotty beamin’ up Captain Kirk.  No, seriously.  The Bible says he was teleported.  Like in Science Fiction…except…not fiction.
* Stephen, the first martyr ever, seems like the nicest guy ever.  Bummer.
* Three thousand people are lovin’ all this and decide to become Christians at the same time.  And they didn’t even do it for a free t-shirt.  Crazy.

Day 314
Daily Reading: Acts 8-9

Remember how after 9/11 people were passionate about America?  Remember how people were passionate about hating terrorists?   And remember how Osama bin Laden changed his mind about everything afterward, and became America’s greatest leader and advocate?

No?  Oh, right.  Because that would be completely insane, and Americans would be idiots to follow their most collectively hated enemy.  Even if the guy genuinely regretted his actions and apologized to U.S. citizens, I imagine most Americans reacting by saying something like, “Screw that,” or, “Hell no,” or, “WTF?  Where’s ma’ gun?  I’m gonna kill that mother….”

There wasn’t a chance in hell that guy was getting any kind of forgiveness.  There was even less of a chance (if that’s even possible) that bin Laden would have been allowed to visit the U.S. without mass riots breaking out.  And there was absolute zero chance of that guy being allowed to become an American politician.  I mean, the idea of that just sounds preposterous.  Like, totally and ridiculously outlandish.  Hugh Hefner has a better chance at becoming the next Pope than bin Laden being allowed to run for office.

Why am I even bringing this up?  Because this actually happened.  Not with Osama bin Laden, but with the apostle Paul.  Paul is like, the best Christian ever.  He started tons of churches, was an incredible Christian teacher, and spent his life spreading the news of Jesus all around the world.  But before all that, he was Christianity’s worst enemy.

“Meanwhile, Saul [who later changed his name to Paul] was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.”  Acts 9:1

He didn’t just oppose Christianity.  He wanted to kill Christians.  He was eager to kill them.  And he was threatening them relentlessly.  Yup, that’s pretty much a dead ringer (no pun intended…well, maybe a little) for bin Laden in my book.

But one day, Paul has a “religious experience” where Jesus appears to him, strikes him blind, only to have him healed days later, at which point Paul realizes this whole “Jesus thing” is real, and maybe murdering Christians isn’t the best idea anymore.

Soon after, Paul can be found preaching about Jesus, which was the very thing he wanted to kill Christians for.  That’s like bin Laden producing YouTube videos about how awesome America is, and how he was wrong for thinking otherwise.

(I really need voice inflection here because) That’s CAAA-RAAAY-ZEE.

That’s only the start, because as time wears on, Paul’s not only allowed to become a member of the church (most Christians were actually afraid of him at first), but he becomes a sought after teacher and well respected man within the movement.  In fact, he wrote most of the New Testament.  He basically instructs the Christians on what it even means to be a Christian.  Again, that’s like bin Laden becoming a major influential player in American politics, to the point that most government officials are seeking his advice on how to effectively run a democratic form of government, then pretty much elect him President.

Can you even conceive of bin Laden not only as a converted American politician, but a highly respected politician?  How about as our beloved President?  That’s insane.  What group of people choose to follow their enemy?  A group of people who are total idiots, that’s who.  Like people who think the writers of LOST knew what they were doing, or people who think they’re learning when they watch Honey Boo Boo on The Learning Channel.  Those types of people might be swayed by some smooth talk, but not rational adults with functioning brains.

Adults with functioning brains, in the same situation as the early Christians were with Paul, would be all like, “Dude…didn’t Paul have your brother killed?  Didn’t he hock a huge loogie on you last week at the market?  Didn’t he call us a bunch of crazy lunatics who were the scum of the earth?  Why the hell are we letting him talk at our meeting?  Why aren’t we repeatedly punching him in the face and kicking him in the jewelies right now?”  That’s how normal people would react.  Yet that’s not what happens here in Acts at all.

These Christians allowed their worst enemy to change his mind, to become one of them, and to become one of their greatest teachers.  Clearly something powerful is happening here because this isn’t normal.  This isn’t anything close to normal.

This is crazy.  Like, Ripley’s Believe it or Not crazy.

Why God Why!?

What You’ve Missed…
* Jesus blows people’s minds when he knows what they’re thinking.  Dude would have crush dominated on The Family Feud.
* Jesus heals a bunch more people, pisses off a bunch more people, and then raises some folks from the dead.  No big deal.
* Jesus dies, then he rises from the dead, putting him in the same category as Ron Burgundy of being kind of a big deal.
* Jesus disappears into and appears out of thin air enough times to make it look like he’s enjoying himself just a little too much.

Day 311
Daily Reading: Mark 16, Luke 24, Acts 1-2

Today wraps up the story of Jesus.  The short version is that he’s killed, his followers are all upset and disheartened, he rises from the dead, appears to his followers and instructs them to carry on his work with the help of the Holy Spirit who will empower them to do great things.  Then Jesus flies away into heaven, kind of like Neo at the end of The Matrix I guess.  Just with less hardcore Goth music.

And that’s it.  Jesus’ time on Earth is over.  He spent three years (most people think) walkin’ around preaching and healing people.  Then he left.  That’s what I want to focus on…because that’s crazy.

Jesus’ whole deal, as Christians understand it today, was to restore humanity’s relationship with God.  In other words, Jesus came to tell people they could know God personally.  He told them God cared about them as an individual.  He told them God was their father, and He considered them His own children.  He wanted people to believe what he was saying, and he wanted everyone to know that he died as the sacrifice required to be in a relationship with God.  His revolutionary message was for the whole world.  The whole world!

Yet, he chose to come to Earth at a time when mass communication consisted of yelling really loud and mass transit consisted of your feet.  If that wasn’t limiting enough, he was only around for a few years, and then he peaced out.

What!?  Isn’t this God?  Couldn’t God appear to everyone on the planet at once?  I mean, even aliens can pull this off.  Independence Day?  The whole world simultaneously discovers these aliens have some pretty awesome laser guns.  Signs?  Worldwide news coverage of the spookiest corn-field-loving aliens of all time.  Even an inanimate asteroid from Armageddon is able to unite the whole world as a global family.  If an asteroid can do it, couldn’t an all-powerful God?

Why does God show up as a single guy, walking around the desert?

If God is trying to reach the whole world, why doesn’t He just appear as a big guy in the sky and let us know what’s up?  That seems to be the most effective way to reach everyone at once, and have them believe in Him and in what He’s saying.

But that’s not what God does.  According to the Bible, he comes to Earth as a man, tells people about it for three years, teaches twelve guys about his mission, and then leaves, telling them to keep up the good work.  Jesus says it’s actually better that he leaves.

“In fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) won’t come.  If I do go away, then I will send him to you.”  John 16:7

This seems so counter-intuitive to how we operate today.  Today it’s all about mass exposure.  Your band, or company, or cool non-profit, or whatever needs a viral video.  You need web presence.  You need maximum exposure.  The more people who hear your message, the better.

But Jesus doesn’t do that.  He seems to go for depth, rather than reach.  He lives alongside twelve men day in and day out.  He puts most of his efforts into those twelve disciples.  He teaches them much more than he teaches the crowds in general.  Instead of investing in mass communication, Jesus invests heavily in personal relationships.  And then he leaves the very movement he started, entrusting it to twelve, highly under-qualified individuals, one of whom has killed himself.

Way to shoot yourself in the foot Jesus.  Clearly you weren’t in my Market Strategy class in college.  (Then again, neither was I because, hey, ultimate Frisbee on the quad.)  This sounds like the worst strategy ever.

Seriously though.  You’d think an all-powerful, all-knowing being like God would just announce himself to the world, clear things up, and then have everyone live in a Care Bear utopia playing tag on rainbows and sleeping in fluffy cloud beds.

So what’s the deal?

I don’t know.  It’s not how I would’ve done it.  When I think about it, I’m amazed the Christian movement even exists today.  God’s strategy to solve a problem seems less likely to work than most of what I’ve seen in both Hangover movies.  Yet…here I am today, a believer in the whole thing.

It almost makes no sense when you think about it.  The fact that the movement still exists, despite seemingly horrible planning has led me to the following conclusions.  God is indeed very mysterious, and that maybe it’s my understanding of what’s logical, sensible, and reasonable that’s off.  Not God’s.

It’s still crazy though.